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Mixing Colors


When you are buying groceries you very often look at the label ofnutritional facts.

In mixing colors, guess what, you are going to do the same thing. You are going to look at the ingredients in the tube before you buy, You should not go by a "common name" such as Sap Green, Bright Red or Sky Blue etc. etc.

You are going to look at the pigment code formulation, wording on the tube P.G. meaning pigment green, P.R. meaning pigment red, P.B. meaning pigment blue 

You are going to start with seven tubes only, why so few, starting with a small number of colors and using and mixing these for a while to get completely familiar with what they can do and cannot do. You can always add more pigments (colors) to your palette as you get more experienced.

Below are the seven pigments that I recommend as starters.

PB    29 French Ultr Marine Warm
PB    35 Cerulean Blue Cool
PR    206 Perm. Alizarin Crimson Cool
PR    108 Cadmium Red Warm
PY    153 New Gamboge Warm
PY    53 Lemon Yellow Cool
PR    101 Burnt Sienna Warm

The above list of seven pigments are listed as warm or cool, remember warm colors tend to advance toward the viewer and cool colors tend to recede.
Keep that thought in mind for a moment.
Most books describe this or that color as being warm or cool as the case may be.
But that statement is totally misleading.

It may well be true as shown on a color wheel at that very moment you are looking at it. But it's a whole different story on a painting for example PB 29 is listed as a warm blue, PR 206 is listed as a cool red. Now place them together and they switch rolls the blue becomes cool and the red becomes warm.
Colors are only warm or cool depending on their neighbors.

Most of you are familiar with the color wheel it consists of primary colors RED, YELLOW, BLUE, and what is know as secondary colors, these are color produced by mixing any two primaries together, example Red plus Blue = Purple, the other two secondary's being Green and Orange.

Six of the seven colors suggested consist of a warm and cool Red, warm and cool Blue. warm and cool Yellow. The colors chosen all have a color BIAS, or leaning towards another color. The warm Blue leans towards Red hence it's a warm Blue, the cool Red leans towards Blue hence it is a cool Red.
This will apply to the other four colors. They all lean one way or the other.
Remember this, it is very important .
If you mix anymore than three pigments you are headed maybe for mud.
In the beginning of mixing colors I told you to disregard Common Names. You are now going to look for Pigment Codes only-forget the name

Pigment code PB 15 which is Phthalo Blue has at least fifteen different names, each manufacturer has a different name for this pigment. If you like this Blue all you have to remember is PB 15 on the label not fifteen different names. Isn't that easier.

Mixing Color is not difficult or complicated if you stop and think what color do I want to end up with.
Let's suppose you want to make "pure clean vibrant purple" look at the color wheel below.

Mix color #1 with #2, please note that you did not cross over the high fences you stayed in your area. You mixed PB 29 which is Blue learning towards Red with PR 206 which is Red leaning towards Blue.
This is what happens, you mixed the Blue Red with a Red Blue therefore you mixed two tubes of pigment together but only two pigments Blue & Red together.

Now suppose you need a dullish purple,.... be a kid and climb over one of the high fences and mix color #1 with, climb over the fence with color #3 this is what happened, your mixed a Blue Red with a Red Yellow, you therefore mixed two tubes of pigment together but now three pigments Blue, Red and Yellow and you wind up with a dull purple.

Now jump over two fences, mix color #6 with color #3 you are still mixing Blue & Reds together but it's going to look like mud, because you mixed Blue/Green Red/Yellow four pigments out of two tubes.

Now you can do the same for a nice Green, mix color #5 & 6 together..... mix #6 & 4 and you are going to get a dullish Green, mix 1 & 4 your going to get mud Green.
Do the same for Orange #4 & 3 good Orange, #4 & 2 dull and #2 & 5 mud.

Mixing two pigments that are biased towards completely different colors will always result in a more "neutralized" (less intend or pure mixture). Some of these colors can be wonderful and you need to know how to mix them to play them off against brighter and pure colors.

The above is the most important thing for you to understand.

Remember as you add pigments you have to find out the "leanings" or bias of that particular color. Very soon I will finish a computerized color wheel for you, there are hundreds of colors, at the click of a butto

Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel tend to make a greyish/black color. White is opposite of Black, I know you got that right away.... Blue is opposite to.... that might make you pause a second or two Orange is Blue's opposite.

Try this tip.....Blue, Red and Yellow are the three primaries.
Take one primary - let's say Blue and it's opposite is the color produced from the other two primaries when they are mixed together in this case Red & Yellow make Orange.
Let's take Red, the two primaries left are Blue & Yellow, when mixed together Green is the result. Green therefore is the opposite to Red. Blue and Red make Purple, The primary left is Yellow, therefore, Yellow is the opposite to Purple.

All my Gray's are made from Permanent Alizarin Crimson plus Winsor Green. Beware both of these colors are stainers.

When you buy a tube of paint try to obtain one pigment stated on the tube. Single pigment tubes is the way to go if possible. The least pigment in each tube the better.

I would never in a million years buy a tube of Davy's Gray it has PG 17 (Green), PBk6 (Black) PW4 (White), PBk19 (Black) all inside the tube. Mix this with another tube I would not buy Burnt Umber PBk7 (Black) PR101  (Red) PY42 (yellow) if you happen to mix both of these you would have seven pigments mixed together WHAT A MESS.

Mixing is also a matter of proportion, how much of each pigment that goes into the mix determines the outcome. Always start your mix with the lightest of pigments and add the others to it. Some pigments have greater tinting strength and a little touch may change the other color quickly.

In Mixing Colors I try to let them mingle and mix together on the paper rather than mixing colors in the palette.
Don't over mix your pigments and for goodness sake don't push & pull them around the paper with your brush - over working.
Always feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.



The organized planning of the palette is a great aid to competent painting. Too often the beginner fails to realize the necessity of instinctively knowing where a particular color lies on his palette. Just as a typist automatically reaches for his keys, so a painter should automatically reach for his colors.

Would strongly urge you not to be too sparing with your pigments as you prepare your palette; use about half a tube of each color. Nothing is more annoying when laying in a wash than to find you have no more color.
By the time you squeeze out more color the area being painted may have dried, causing serious trouble.
If a color has been lying on the palette for some time between painting sessions and shows signs of cracking, a drop of glycerine will soften it.
A palette with a lid and large mixing area is ideal..




The whole world could use a big dose of harmony right now.

Sadly I cannot help, except help my fellow artists to create "Harmony" in their Watercolor Paintings.

Colors and shapes have to work together at every stage of a Watercolor Painting development. We need harmony - No Rock and Roll in the middle of a Spanish Guitar rendering.

SIDEBAR:- The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played the "Beatles Classics" without the vocal, unbelievable, wonderful music, pick-up a copy sometime.

Back to painting, no one color can "sing" more loudly than others or be a glaring shape. That's not to say the center of interest cannot be painting with little more pigment to emphasize where you want the viewer to look.

The road to color harmony starts with understanding the characteristics and properties of the colors on "YOUR" palette. Learn how to mix and match them so that they work for you. Learn to appreciate the full potential of every color and the effects each has on another.

We are going to go through this subject matter in depth. So that means starting at the basic's.

For those of you that are ready to skip, DON'T unless without hesitation you know the answer to this quick question.

On the value scale 1 to 10 (10 being the darkest) what value would you assign to a mid value Green and would Cadmium Red deep be placed to the left (lighter) or right (darker) side of the Green.

Primary colors are : Red, Blue, Yellow

Secondary colors are : Violet, Orange, Green (these are mixtures of two primaries).

Colors beside each other are called Analogous, colors opposite are called complementary. Black is opposite to White (Complementary).

Simple idea to quickly understand who is complementary to who.

1) Three primary colors, Red, Blue & Yellow.

2) Remove one color from the group say Red, leaving Blue & Yellow.

3) Mix the two, Blue & Yellow together the result is Green.

4) Green then is the opposite, complementary to Red. The color you removed in the first place.

Repeat step -2- this time Blue leaving Red & Yellow. Remove Blue.

Repeat step - 3 - Mix Red & Yellow = Orange.

Step - 4 - Orange is opposite to the color you removed - Blue. GOT IT?

Now do all the rest. Tertiaries are: Yellow/ Orange ,     Red /Orange,     Red /Violet, Blue /Violet,    Blue/ Green,    Yellow /Green.   Mixtures of one primary and one secondary.



What is complementary to the following tertiaries?

Red/Orange - Ask yourself what is opposite to Red = Green. What is opposite to Orange = Blue. So, the complementary to a Red/Orange is a Green/Blue.

You may work all the others the same way (Red/Violet, Blue/Violet. Yellow/Green. Yellow/Orange).



Blue complements Orange - Volet complements Yellow - so Orange/Yellow is opposite to Blue/Violet.

You decide if and when you are going to fill your head with this stuff.


Value is the relative lightness of darkness of a color. Here is a value scale 1-7.


Every color is capable of a range from light to dark. Here are colors on a value scale 1-7.


Colors used #2 - Yellow, #3 - Orange, Red & Green #4, Blue- #5, Violet #6, Black #7.

Completely understand this

Value is a property of color, value and color are two separate subjects.

Colors can, and are, different from each other (for instance Red and Blue) can have the same value.

Yellow has the smallest value range, it is impossible to make a dark Yellow.


Blue has a big range, a very light hint of Blue all the way to dark, dark Blue.

It is difficult to paint a Yellow flower, you cannot make light tints and dark shadows.

But, Blue, Red you have a large range of values with those two colors.

Those last two written thoughts are very important, hope I made it clear

Yellow Rose is a lot harder to paint than say a Red one. Very little variations in value with Yellow, many with Red. Plan your values with a thumbnail sketch. Try to match colors to your value sketch.


Paint a value range for all the colors on your palette, using the above value scale, it would be better to make a large one yourself.

Knowing the value range of each color you have ,would start you seeing a great improvement in your work.

Values - This is what Judges look for a nice well thought range of VALUES (and the public don't know it but, know just a "feeling" that they have about your painting if it is all painted in the say the middle range. or any small range for that matter

What would you think of a piece for music played on a piano using say the middle two octaves Boring Boring that how viewers see your painting if you don't work on values

Judges in a competition are first and foremost looking for your understanding of values, NOT SUBJECT, NOT TECHNICALLY PAINTED WELL, NOT COLORS, these are secondary considerations. Values - Values, are number one item for a Judge (or should be).



Colors can be warm or cool, ever seen a book stating this is a cool color, this is a warm color, of course you have.

This is misleading. Warm or cool is only RELATIVE TO ITS NEIGHBOURS

Alizarin Crimson is a warm color. Well is it? Place Cadmium Red Light as a neighbour, it's now cool.


Within any give Red color the warmest is the one with the most Yellow.

On the other hand you could say the coolest Red if the one with the most Blue

Cadmium Red Light (leans to Orange) has Yellow in it.

Alizarin Crimson (leans to Violet) has Blue in it.

Is'nt this getting easy.




Cerulean Blue is cool as the Blues move towards Ultramarine Blue, they become warmer Ultra marine contains Red



Choose a color scheme. Mastering the contrasts of color.How light and atmosphere affect color. 


Click below to go to "Watercolor Supplies" to see the very best prices on all supplies you will ever need.

[Note: Subscribers to "Jim's Watercolor Challenge" were able to view real-time video demonstrations on color theory, colorwheel, and mixing colors.]


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